Why am I still a Republican?

Republicans once believed in limited government, fiscal restraint, support for the defense and national security establishments, family values, and a strong American role in maintaining global order. More than that, we were the party that believed in logic and prudence over emotion.

Today’s Republicans, however, are a party of bellowing beauty queens who blow up spending caps, bust the deficit and attack America’s law enforcement and national security agencies as dangerous conspirators. Their leader expects banana republic parades, coddles the Kremlin, protects violent men in positions of responsibility, and overlooks spousal abuse. The rank-and-file GOP members who once claimed that liberals were creating a tyrannical monarchy in the Oval Office now applaud the expansion of the presidency into a gigantic cult of personality.

So, why am I still a Republican?

I get asked this question a lot. When it comes from Democrats, it’s almost always a question asked in bad faith, as they want me either to quit my party or to answer for all of its current (and past) sins. When asked, “How could you stay in your party” by people whose party has plenty to answer for itself, including the nomination of Hillary Clinton, it’s not the start of a productive conversation.

Republicans themselves are having the same conversations, privately and publicly. Is President Donald Trump now the avatar of the Republican Party? And if he is, how can anyone who once believed in the party of Lincoln and Reagan stay in it?

During the campaign, as the likelihood of a Trump victory grew, I felt more strongly attached to the party because I wanted to prevent it from being hijacked by a callous and vulgar lifelong Democrat for whom party politics were just an extension of his own strange emotional needs, and who cared nothing for conservative ideas or values.

When Trump won, I stayed, because I believed that his victory was an aberration, a bizarre outcome that resulted from several factors, including Clinton’s impossibly inept campaign. There would come a day when Trump was gone, and reasonable conservatives would have to pick up the pieces and recreate the GOP as a functioning center-right party.

For now, I really am a Republican In Name Only, because I actively want the see the Republicans defeated — soundly — in 2018 (and in 2020, if the president is not primaried out of his seat), if that’s what it takes to break the fever.

In terms of party loyalty, that makes me a pretty lousy Republican. On the other hand, I might argue that I am in fact a better Republican than the opportunists on the White House staff and Capitol Hill who have left the party but refuse to give up the name.

The same could be said for “Republican” voters. Do they really represent the party, or are they the Coalition of the Incoherent? Like the president himself, they have no political compass and no policy preferences. Indeed, what seems to unite Trump voters is a generic hostility to immigrants and a demand that government resources and transfers not be shrunk but redirected — to themselves.

I am also taking a gamble based on history. Populism looks powerful from the outside, but it rarely succeeds in holding power. It is not a belief but a reflex, one that fades away once the hard work of governing looms. It is a great vessel for expressing anger, but it is not very good at keeping the lights on.

What could finally drive me from the party? If going to the wall for deficits, wife-beaters and Putin isn’t enough, what is? And how much longer can this go on before the Trump administration damages the words “Republican” and “conservative” permanently?

My answer is to see whether enough of my fellow conservatives agree with me in 2018 to accept that the party needs to be purged of the New Know-Nothings.

However, one should never underestimate the ability of the Democrats to screw up an election, and it is possible that the mid-terms and the 2020 election will end up breaking for Trump’s GOP.

If that happens, the Republican Party has no future. I and many others, including the younger people, will leave, and the Grand Old Party will become largely a regional party that will be gone in 30 years. At that point a new conservative party will have to take the GOP’s place, a process that will take decades.

I would prefer to revive the GOP after it is forced back into the minority, when we can have a real fight within the party about what it stands for and who it should support.

The party does not need to be abandoned, nor does it need to be burned to the ground. But it definitely needs to be temporarily evacuated and fumigated.

Albert Godfrey Sr. lives in Fayette.

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